Parker House Prison

Dundee is a city of roundabouts or circles as they are called here and quite a few now have interesting planting designs. One of the best was the roundabout at the top of the Marketgait which over a few years had an astonishing display of wild flowers. It was so gorgeous to look at that it you wondered if it might precipitate an accident, when the driver’s eyes strayed too long on the startling yellows, warm oranges and the fluorescent blues. On the north west side of the roundabout was an awkward shaped piece of land with a steep slope up to Barrack Street and the Victorian towers of the Royal Infirmary.

Some years ago, Abertay university, looking to expand their student accommodation, put forward a proposal to build on the site. It was a creative and adventurous development and the initial idea was for a student residence of 4-5 storeys which would sit neatly under the hill, respect the wooded area and frame the towers and spires of the hospital which had a whiff of Oxbridge about them . Somewhere along the line the idea was changed and a planning application was lodged for a structure almost twice the height (some ten storeys) which hid the hill and obliterated all but the central tower of the hospital with its delicate cupola. The Council planning authority wisely refused the application but it was appealed and when the university threatened to leave Dundee and find a home in Arbroath or Forfar, the council buckled and the development was allowed to proceed.

The concrete block, known as Parker Halls, staggers round the corner, clutching the hill and was clad in dull grey ribbed sheeting with random splashes of insipid orange on the rainshield. The result, accommodation for hapless student of Abertay University, is an anonymous building from anywhere despising landscape and history. It is a sorry and cautionary tale which has been repeated in so many of our towns and cities, when a powerful institution threatens and bullies the duly elected representatives of a community into forcing upon them a wholly bad decision.

Abertay University, like so many other universities may well be facing its demise as a consequence of the current crisis. Many international students are already leaving and with them the income that has sustained these institutions in recent times. Who knows what will happen in the years ahead, but the city will be left with an outrageous white elephant and a public eyesore which the beauty of the wild flowers will be hard pressed to mitigate.

From the start, locals felt it looked a bit like a prison. In the strangest of ironies, today, it is.

Crawford Mackenzie

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